Brennan Elliott and Nikki DeLoach Usher in Hallmark's DaySpring with "The Gift of Peace"

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: Brennan Elliott and Nikki DeLoach Usher in Hallmark's DaySpring with "The Gift of Peace"

As he considered his 25th project for Hallmark Media since beginning his partnership in 2012, Brennan Elliott (the reigning King of Hallmark) knew it had to be special. He found that in The Gift of Peace (co-starring Nikki DeLoach); the first Hallmark production released under their new DaySpring banner (in conjunction with the company's hugely successful faith-based card line of the same name). Accepting a touching, heartfelt movie that focused on a crisis of faith, loss and healing proved to be extremely personal, because Elliott, a man of faith himself, has been going through his own personal journey, with his wife Cami battling, and beating, several cancers over the past six years. Thankfully, according to the actor, she is currently doing well.

"This was the hardest project I've done – ever!" he reflected during an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "I would have these moments where the scene would be over, and I didn't really remember acting. I was so in it because I'm living it at times. People work differently, but I personalize and experience everything. So, I make choices as an actor that are personal, to make something seem real. This one was [easy] to access, but my ego didn't want to access it. There were times I was like, 'I don't want to go there today. Can I just do it and then go home?' I didn't want to go to that place.

"We all decided in the read-through that we were going to hold each other's hand through this," Elliott continued. "Nikki was there for me throughout. With [Nikki's] father passing recently, and obviously using imagination and creating these characters, no one held back. We're going to tell the story as honestly as possible and let the audience decide. It was painful, but there were cathartic moments.

"There were underpinnings emotionally in this movie that when I first read the script, scared me," he continued. "I said to Nikki, 'Do you want to do this?' She replied, 'If you can do it, I'll do it.' I said, 'You might want to hold my hand for a couple of days when we're done working because we're gonna be going through some personal stuff.' She was amazing and lovely. It's the one movie I've done in my life where honestly, I felt like the cast, the crew, all of us, it was familial."

In the film Elliott portrays Michael, the leader of a grief support group, who is so focused on healing others that he's forgotten to deal with his own personal loss. When Traci (DeLoach), an artist and once-devout Christian struggling with her faith after the loss of her husband, enters the group, Michael takes a liking to her. Initially skeptical, Traci agrees to attend the meetings, where through Michael's support and understanding from others experiencing similar situations, she once again opens her heart to her faith.

"The story really is about spirituality," Elliott said. "That isn't [necessarily] going into a church and singing songs, or going to [a place for] whatever religion you're in. It's about heart. It's about love. It's about selflessness. It's about friendship. It's about caring for others over yourself or helping people through that. I joined a support group as a caregiver for my wife's illness, way before this came across my desk. I needed help. Someone said to me, 'You're not doing well with your wife's illness.' I replied, 'No, I'm fine. She's the one dealing with cancer, not me.' That's when I first learned about anticipatory grief -- your fear of 'this could happen, and I could lose her.'

"I wouldn't have been able to deal with my own emotional struggles through the journey of her illness and my fears without knowing [about] that," he added. "My online group helped me. By seeing what they've gone through, or are going through, you could realize this person isn't gonna make it, [yet] this person is helping me so selflessly and you end up helping them. In helping others, you find healing. That's a through-line in this story."

Elliott admitted one thing he was very cognizant of in doing the film was to not alienate anyone of any faith who watches it. And while Christianity plays a role, the film never preaches, which was important. "No question there are faith elements to it," he explained. "But it's kind of in terms of, life is not easy, it's painful and it's tough. If you haven't gone through grief or pain, you will at some point in your life, and we all need something in our life, whatever creed, whatever religion, whatever spirituality, there's got to be something you can hold on to.

"DaySpring is a Christian organization, so we had a Christian element," he added. "But we didn't want to bang people over the head with it because we wanted people of other beliefs to watch and be entertained -- whatever their faith. I think we played our cards right as it's more about everybody going through something on some level. We all need something to [help us] and that was our goal. This movie is about touching [viewers] to give them that sense of hope."

Professionally, Elliott feels blessed. He's grateful to DaySpring for allowing him help tell their first Hallmark Movies and Mysteries story, and for the artistic freedom they gave everyone involved. "I'm pretty honored and they entrusted me, Nikki and the cast, to do this kind of content because you can't fake this kind of movie," he said. He also believes the film is worthy of repeat viewings. "I felt the subtext in a lot of it was a lot deeper than just the words on the page," he noted.

"It is a very personal piece," Elliott added in closing. "It's special, and if one person watching is going through grief and thinks, 'Okay, maybe I'm not going insane' and if it leads them to get some help, how can you not walk away feeling like you've done something good in the world?"

The Gift of Peace will be telecast Saturday, December 10 at 10 p.m. on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries as part of their Miracles of Christmas programming event.

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